This Activity is designed to be used in the classroom or as a homework task to support the teaching and learning of skills involved in customer service.
Customer Service Skills to Deal with Customer Situations
Set of scenarios to practice customer service skills (in written, phone and face-to-face situations).
Could you deal with frustrated customers? © iStock.com
Six weeks ago, Mr and Mrs Trellis booked return tickets with SMT Ltd for a luxury coach tour of the Normandy war fields in Northern France. The tour will be the first in a new line of services promoted by SMT, who have researched into demand for these tours. Look at these previous T&T activities to see how Sheila and the company went about their market research:
Unfortunately, Terri and Kevin, Sales Records Officers at SMT, have made a mistake in logging the booking onto the company's computer system. Between the two clerical officers, the paper records of Mr and Mrs Trellis's booking have been lost. Terri's system has recorded the booking; Kevin's has not.
This error isn't picked up at the end of the week when bookings are checked. If Sheila hadn't personally checked the bookings for this first cross-Channel service, Mr and Mrs Trellis's holiday would have been ruined. As it is, they are unlikely to be pleased. Due to popular demand for the new service, there are no remaining seats on the first trip.
Sheila has made it clear to Terri and Kevin that they must clear up the mess that their error has caused. What action could the two clerical officers take to resolve the customer service issues raised?
- Telephone Mr and Mrs Trellis to explain the problem and ask them to make a booking on the next cross-Channel coach tour.
- Telephone Mr and Mrs Trellis, explain the problem and offer free tickets on the next cross-Channel tour.
- Write to Mr and Mrs Trellis, informing them of the problem and asking them to re-arrange their holiday.
- Expect Mr and Mrs Trellis to find out the booking error when they turn up. Plan to deal with the problem at that time.
The first coach tour takes place and looks like it's going to be a great success: the coach is full and the atmosphere on board is happy and lively. The Channel crossing is smooth and rapid. But as the ferry nears the French port, the holiday suddenly takes a turn for the worse.
Industrial relations problems have simmered away all year at the port. The past two weeks have seen these problems boil over, as dockworkers have launched a series of 'wildcat' strikes. The port at which the SMT tour is due to dock is most severely affected. Port staff refuse to accept any new ferry arrivals and the SMT service is left to wait outside the main harbour, unable to dock.
Most SMT customers understand the situation they find themselves facing. They seem to accept that it is not the coach company's fault. Many of the coach passengers show considerable sympathy for their courier. Roger is extremely apologetic and clearly worried about the impact of the strike on both the customers and his position within SMT.
After 12 hours the industrial action is supended and the ferry and its passengers are able to disembark. The coach trip can now resume. Unfortunately, some SMT customers became ill whilst awaiting entry to the French port. The illness ruins the remaining days of the coach tour.
Upon return to the UK, Roger checks with Sheila about the best way to deal with what happened. Sheila suggests one of the following:
- Write to all the customers apologising for the problems they experienced on the coach tour. However, the letter should make clear that the sickness suffered by some of the passengers is nothing at all to do with the firm. Offer no compensation, as none of the events were the firm's responsibility.
- Write to all the customers apologising for their understandable dissatisfaction with the coach tour. State that SMT could not be held responsible for the problems experienced, but explain that all customers on the initial cross-Channel tour will be offered compensation. This will amount to a 20% discount on any future bookings made with SMT Ltd.
- Write to all the customers making no apology and making clear that there will be no compensation. Blame the French for the strike and point out that SMT Ltd ended up making no money from the tour. State that Roger has also been suspended from his job, as he failed to deal effectively with the issues that arose.
- Send no letters to customers; wait for them to contact SMT. Meanwhile, cancel all future plans for cross-Channel tours. There is no way that any customers will want to book on one of these trips after the experience of the first tour. Also, get in touch with the company's lawyers in order to prepare to fight any legal action taken by disgruntled customers.
On the journey to the ferry port, the coach breaks down. The customers will miss their ferry and SMT have to make contingency plans to accommodate them overnight in a hotel close to the terminal.
The next day, a relief coach arrives and the passengers have to swap onto this replacement transport. This involves a great deal of hassle and many of the customers complain about having to transfer their luggage onto the new coach. Added to this the customers have suffered the loss of an entire day of the tour.
Upon their return to the UK, many of the coach passengers complain to the courier about the tour and make clear their intention to put their grievances down on paper.
Sheila discusses the problems encountered on the tour with the courier and driver on their return to the UK. She suggests one of the following options for action:
- Write letters of apology to all the customers. Accept that the firm should not have left passengers to transfer their own luggage. Accept responsibility for the coach breakdown, but stress that all the company's vehicles are well maintained and checked before each tour commences. Accept that this is no consolation to those customers who may feel that their holiday was ruined as a result of the delayed journey. Offer free places on a similarly-priced tour in the future.
- Find out from the driver and courier which passengers were most vocal in their complaints. Write to these customers only, offering a discount on a future tour, the date of which will be decided at SMT's discretion.
- Write to all customers blaming the garage mechanics who carry out maintenance on the company's fleet of coaches. Give the garage's address to the customers and suggest they contact them direct to complain. In addition, ask the customers to reimburse SMT for the cost of the overnight accommodation arranged when the coach broke down.
- Make no effort to contact the customers in the hope that the fuss will die down. Cancel all remaining cross-Channel tours, as they're too much hassle for the firm, involving too many aspects that could go wrong.
On board the cross-Channel ferry, it becomes clear that the tour party will share the trip with a group of football fans. The atmosphere quickly gets out of control and the trip becomes uncomfortable for many of SMT's customers. Fights break out during the crossing and the passengers take refuge away from the main bar area.
Rowdy football fans are an unwanted extra on SMT's ferry trip. How should the company respond to the problems they cause? Copyright: Zoban Raftik, stock.xchng
Upon disembarking the ferry, the customers find that one of the football supporters has somehow secreted himself on board their coach. Roger, the tour courier, has reached the end of his tether. He loses control of himself and, amazingly, fells the football fan with a flying headbutt. To the concern of the passengers, Roger screams at the driver to stop and throws the unconscious man off the coach.
Whilst relieved to see the departure of the football supporter, the passengers are shocked at his treatment and the behaviour of the courier. Some feel that this was worse than the initial invasion by the fan. Roger moves through the coach trying to comfort some of the more alarmed passengers and apologising to others who are complaining.
When the tour is over and the dust has settled, Sheila considers how best to respond to the letters of complaint that her company has received. She believes that there are four options:
- Respond to the complaints by pointing out that newspaper reports exonerated the company, saying that the courier's actions were taken with the interests of the customers in mind. Offer no apology and say that the firm would do the same again if faced with the same circumstances.
- Write a letter of apology to all the customers. Distance the company from the actions of its employees but take no action against him. Emphasise the unlikelihood of such an event occurring again on future tours. Stress the positive aspects of the rest of the trip. Express the firm's hopes that customers will choose to travel with SMT again.
- SMT has taken disciplinary action against the courier and removed him from a customer-facing role. Write a letter of apology to all customers on the cross-Channel trip. Inform them of the action taken against the courier. Apologise for the problems caused by the football supporters, but point out that this was beyond the firm's control. Offer discounted holidays to all those affected.
- Contact the company's legal advisers in case the customers take action against SMT for the upset caused during the trip. Avoid communicating with the firm's customers. Make statement to the media instead. Suggest that the courier on the cross-Channel tour takes extended gardening leave.
- In each of the four scenarios above, select the one most effective customer service solution from the options provided.
- Choose one of the four scenarios. Carry out the task that Sheila would select: be it a letter, telephone call or media statement.
- For more background, please take a look at SMT Travel's previous appearances in Biz/ed activities: